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'Irreparable harm': Justice Department warns against further delay in Trump documents probe

The Justice Department made the plea as Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart unsealed more information in the Trump search warrant case.
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The Justice Department on Tuesday blasted efforts by former President Donald Trump’s lawyers to delay its investigation of classified documents seized at his Florida resort, while a magistrate judge unsealed some previously redacted information relating to the FBI's search of Trump's club.

"Plaintiff [Trump] has characterized the government’s criminal investigation as a 'document storage dispute' or an 'overdue library book scenario.' In doing so, Plaintiff has not addressed the potential harms that could result from mishandling classified information or the strict requirements imposed by law for handling such materials," the Justice Department said in a court filing urging U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon to allow it to proceed for now with its criminal investigation into the over 100 classified documents the department says it took from Trump's home in Palm Beach, Florida.

The filing noted that the documents had "markings signifying that their unauthorized disclosure 'reasonably could be expected to result in damage to the national security,' including 'exceptionally grave damage,'" and it said any delay causes "irreparable harm" to the government and the public.

Cannon issued an order this month temporarily halting parts of the criminal investigation until a special master can review the evidence seized in the August search for attorney-client and executive privilege issues. Cannon said a national security damage assessment could continue, but the government said that the two probes are interrelated and that the review can't go on without the FBI's assistance. The Justice Department is asking the judge to stay her ruling while it appeals so it can investigate how the documents were handled.

Trump's attorneys have suggested in court filings that the documents were declassified and that they are his personal records and belong to him — contentions the Justice Department ridiculed in its new filing.

"As to the records marked as classified, Plaintiff asserts that the government has not 'proven' their classification status. But even if Plaintiff had declassified any of these records while he was President— a proposition that Plaintiff does not specifically assert in any of his filings in these proceedings, in a sworn declaration, or through any evidence — any record bearing classification markings was necessarily created by the government and, therefore, is not Plaintiff’s personal property," the filing said.

Furthermore, the government argued: “Even if Plaintiff had declassified these records, and even if he somehow had categorized them as his 'personal' records for purposes of the PRA [Presidential Records Act] — neither of which has been shown — nothing in the PRA or any other source of law establishes a plausible claim of privilege or any other justification for an injunction restricting the government’s review and use of records at the center of an ongoing criminal and national security investigation.”

Former President Donald Trump
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Sept. 3.Mary Altaffer / AP file

Separately, Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, who signed off on the government's search warrant for the Trump property, unsealed some previously redacted information from the affidavit in which the feds laid out their case for the search.

The newly released sections of the affidavit show that investigators were searching for a wide array of classified documents, including several types of top-secret documents. It also shows that when Trump's lawyers handed over 38 documents marked top secret, secret or confidential in June, they told investigators they'd all been kept in a storage room at the resort.

Justice Department officials said at the time of their June 3 visit that about 50 boxes remained in the room, as well as a "coat rack with suit jackets" and "interior decor items such as wall art and frames." Investigators said Trump's lawyers wouldn’t let them look inside the boxes during the visit, according to the Justice Department's court filings.

On June 22, the Justice Department subpoenaed Trump's company, the Trump Organization, for surveillance video of the storage room area going back to Jan. 10, the newly unsealed information shows, and the Trump Organization gave the FBI a hard drive on July 6.

It's unclear why the FBI selected Jan. 10. Trump turned over 15 boxes of documents to the National Archives and Records Administration on Jan. 18 after repeated requests by the agency. The National Archives said the boxes contained "highly classified documents intermingled with other records."

Reinhart unsealed the new information in light of the Justice Department’s getting judicial approval to make much of the same information available for a different filing in the case before Cannon last month.